The word referendum is Latin and means something referred (to the people for a decision). A referendum is a vote by all voters on a question. In Australia it's normally on a proposal to change the Constitution or to gauge the opinion of electors on a certain issue - e.g. daylight saving. Electors are simply required to vote either "yes" or "no" in response to one or more questions.
A change to the Commonwealth Constitution can only be made if, in the referendum, the majority of electors, and the electors in a majority of the states, that is four out of six states, vote yes. Four times referendums have failed when there have been national majorities in favour of the amendments but there has not been a majority in favour in at least four of the six states.
Originally only electors in the states voted in referendums, but the Commonwealth Constitution was amended in 1977 to give electors in the two territories an opportunity to be included in the count for the national majority. However the territories are not counted for the requirement that a majority of the states must also be in favour.
Polling day for a referendum is organised along similar lines to a general election. Polling places are established in each electorate and operate from 8.00am to 6.00pm. Counting begins at the close of polling and because only a "yes" or "no" is recorded in the box(es) next to the question(s) on the ballot paper, the counting process is very simple. As such the result of a referendum is usually known quite soon after polling closes.
Referendum Results in Western Australia
The referendum was not a required part of the process for constitutional change in terms of the Western Australian Constitution until 1978. At that time, Section 73 of the Constitution Act was amended, necessitating the holding of a referendum prior to implementing constitutional change which expressly provided for:
- abolition of or alteration in the office of Governor;
- abolition of the Legislative Council or of the Legislative Assembly;
- the Legislative Council or the Legislative Assembly to be composed of members other than members directly chosen by the people;
- a reduction in the numbers of the members of the Legislative Council or Legislative Assembly;
- matters affecting certain other sections of the Constitution including Section 73 itself.
As yet no proposal has been successfully brought forward to utilise this provision.
Click here to view a summary of referendums that have been held in Western Australia, other than those designed to secure constitutional amendments under the provisions of Section 128 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia. These referendums have been as a consequence of particular Acts of the Parliament of Western Australia providing for such a process, prior to the particular proposal becoming law.